(continued from parts 1 and 2)
The veterinarian had noted the look of fear on the little girl’s face when he had entered the room. She sat next to her mom and though not exactly clingy in character, she was inwardly withdrawn displaying such in her posture and her mannerisms. Her face revealed doubt, skepticism…..fear. Her mother, seemingly stable and not unnerved in the least, appeared to be ignoring her daughter’s facial expressions and whatever might be lurking beneath them.
“So, how has Shadow been? Has he been doing well at home? Any recent problems or issues that you can think of?” The veterinarians words are directed to the mother along with the majority of his eye contact. Only a fleeting glimpse or two catches the little girl in his periphery as he has intended. His words and tone have also instantly shed any hint of “puppy talk” or “baby talk” or other high pitched sound for these are destabilizing to nervous and fearful creatures. Just as purposefully, he regulates his cadence to a steady and reassuring rhythm, he softens all expression, and he allows his quirky and goofy-ass smile to spread from ear to ear for all to see. These efforts are essential in his endeavor.
The conversation volleys for a moment and then dances back and forth between the mother and the veterinarian, all in good fun and fashion. The daughter watches the interaction, and even if her consciousness does not register the full implication of the exchange, it imprints upon her psyche nonetheless. The veterinarian is slowly creating a healing environment….. a safe and stable orbit, by transforming the energy that is swirling about the mom, the daughter, and Shadow, their dog.
Before he had even walked into the room and begun his master planetary plan, the veterinarian had been privy to the little girl’s fear. He had overheard an exchange through the door involving her dramatic worry over a routine blood draw that was performed on Shadow by another staff member. The relevance of that marker impacted him immediately. It became exponentially significant a millisecond later when he paired it with an alert that popped up on Shadow’s record. He himself had placed that alert after the last annual visit: Caution – Fear Response.
The veterinarian had sat on the floor in front of both mom and daughter as he had performed his exam on Shadow. This occurred without incident…..without destabilization or negativity of any sort. And such stabilization is impossible to ignore for any creature, even if they don’t understand what is actually happening. After he had finished his exam, mom began asking the veterinarian about Shadow’s behavior at home. Sometimes, he thought, sometimes, it works. Sometimes, they glitch their own Matrix against stability, and then, catch a glimpse of something beyond. Sometimes, you get a chance to support someone else who decides to ask more questions.
It was tortuously wonderful. The veterinarian knew that such a glimmer of hope, no matter how bright and uplifting in its potential, always came with the cost of opening an explosive Pandora’s Box. That box invariably sprung open with the required bombardment of behavioral acknowledgement, reflection, and enlightenment. No matter what words were uttered, in the end, most people preferred their naive delusions and misperceptions to enlightening and unsettling detonations. And most often, the messenger of truth, even when summoned forth with extreme exuberance, would find himself eventually scapegoated, demonized, and crucified. In the end, he would find himself hanging on the cross, all alone, to pay for the sins of others.
Still sitting on the floor, he looked up at mom, gathered his energy and poured it forth into what was most important. “Before we talk about the issues at home, let me tell you what occurred during the exam that I just performed. Shadow displayed signs or markers of fear when I entered the room and before I even touched him. I could see it in his ears being pulled back, his tail being lowered and curled, and his stooped posture. I know you saw it too, but you may not have understood what those things fully meant. Despite what many people assume, what all of that means, what Shadow is simply saying in dog language, is that he is submitting fully and that he is fearful of his surroundings. In other words, he is nervous and insecure, and as such he would prefer to be left alone. If I really want to help him, I must recognize these signs, his doggy language if you will, and make sure not to reinforce his fear or give it an excuse. The primary glitch everyone has with this concept is that they think fear can only be induced and nurtured by an abusive or violent man. That does happen, but frequently, it isn’t the actual case.”
The veterinarian shifts a little bit as he continues to sit on the floor in a corner of the room. He moves his arms and legs, this way and that, to reposition some of the aching muscles in his legs and back. He pauses his conversation briefly during his stretch. The rolodex of his mind spins. Mom seems to be interested, open, and engaged in the conversation. Shadow also appears to be doing well. Most of his fear has subsided, and he strolls around the room comfortably; his ears are now naturally forward, his tail is level with an occasional wag, and his breathing has become relaxed and almost effortless. He even approaches the veterinarian intermittently for acknowledgement as he circles the room. The daughter still looks nervous, skeptical, and confused. The movements of her eyes and of her head have become more mobile…more free, but her body and arms still seem to be set in stone. The veterinarian knows that look, he knows the daunting fear that dwells inside that little girl, and he bets that it doesn’t have anything to do with abuse or violence. He thinks it a little interesting that in this case, he gets to represent the external world, the real world, not only for Shadow, but also for the daughter.
He looks back at mom. “Okay, you still with me? Are you sure you want to hear the rest?,” and the veterinarian smiles warmly at her. His eyes sparkle at the comical insanity of shared existence and the fact that so many really don’t want to hear the rest. She does, and it makes a difference in everything. It fills him with empathy and a little playful giddiness. She says “Yes. Yes, I do. Please continue. I can see the difference and impact you had on Shadow. I would really like to know.”
“Alrighty then!!!,” he fires back with a chuckle and a pronounced goofy smile, “we see many, many dogs like Shadow. In other words, this behavior is very common and I say that because I want you to know how confused almost everyone happens to be on this issue…I don’t think it is just a problem for your family and Shadow. It is something that we all need to understand. Everyone thinks that they really know their dog, and that they understand his or her behavior. Most owners seem to want to believe that their dogs are just little people and that all they want and need is quote love. It simply isn’t true. It’s a pipe dream and it leads to behavioral problems in some sixty to eighty percent of the dogs that we see here at the clinic. I see a patient like Shadow or even one much worse at least once a day. Sometimes, it happens all day long. The problem is that people smother their puppies and dogs with what we like to call love. The dogs get spoiled beyond belief; given everything they want and more. Behaviorally, that isn’t “love,” its total submission and subservience and dogs don’t really play stupid human games…if you know what I mean…they interpret and respond only to the actual behavior. They get propped up into being the ruler of their domain…the house, and we become their de facto servants responding to their every whim. The dog becomes a Roman god and the owner’s become only worshipping slaves who have openly confessed how unworthy they are to challenge or question such a god.” He takes another momentary breather, allowing for a little digestion of his words. His expressions remain soft and comical. Mom is still engaged. Her posture is relaxed and receptive. The little girl’s face is still neutral, but now it has become subject to short subtle bursts of curiosity. Her legs are now swaying ever so slightly as they hang from her seat and her arms have lost some rigidness as they begin to gently flex. She is opening up and starting to look at the external world. He glows a little brighter inside and tries to look at her like a friendly cartoon character. She makes eye contact, but only as an observer. She is not ready for interaction. Not yet.
He continues “So, people inadvertently prop their dog up to be the master of the make believe and isolated universe within their own home and their own pack through their application of love. That isolated pack and isolated universe become the absolute “norm” and the only training ground for all of the dog’s interactive skills. Anything outside of that universe becomes foreign or alien to the dog. Another way of saying it is that the dog is unsocialized or that he has never been properly exposed to the reality of other packs which exists outside of that isolated and artificial universe. Because the dog has never been properly exposed or socialized to the real outside world, it usually responds with inappropriate fear to anything in that outside world that presents it with even the slightest risk or challenge. This is where the moment of now comes into play. Here, in this room, Shadow is faced with an unknown alien force that has mysteriously dethroned him from being master of the universe. We have done this by restraining him and making him follow normal structure. In comparison to the reality of his situation, his perception is overwhelming fear as to what he interprets as extreme oppression and hostility. Thus, his behavior during the exam; his ears pulled back, his tail tucked, and his cowered posture. To battle that demon, to help him conquer that fear and become more stable, I have to minimize his restraint and not give him a further reason or excuse to dive even deeper into that irrational fear. Delicately, and also at the same time, I cannot show submission to him or the “love” that he is used to getting at home. He will only interpret that as weakness…..and he will disrespect it as such. I have to remain centered and balanced to keep him centered and balanced. My energy has to match his energy, and not go overboard or underboard in its intensity or its response.” The veterinarian shifts his body position once more, but all the while he still remains seated sideways to the owner and her daughter. His orientation to them is less challenging this way, less provoking of any type of anxiety or fear. That’s just the way things work. Shadow inherently knows all of this behavioral language and he accepts it without question. A minute or two ago, he actually relaxed enough to lay down next to the veterinarian, sprawling out comfortably within an easy arm’s reach. He lies right next to the veterinarian’s “personal bubble,” but he does not invade that space. All of his previous anxiety and fear have vanished. They have been replaced by the natural forces of appropriate respect and structure.
The little girl now flirts with the faintest of smiles, here and there, when the veterinarian playfully attracts her attention. Mom still seems to be happy, comfortable, and receptive. The veterinarian pets Shadow for a moment and then addresses mom directly again. “Does all of that make sense? I know I am rambling a bit and covering an awful lot of info, but you asked for it!” His smirky smile is oozing with good hearted irony and the camaraderie of addressing a difficult situation with as much shared humor as is possible. She smiles back at him. “Yep. I get it. It makes a lot of sense. It really does. I’m following you.”
“Just keep in mind that if you quote love or spoil Shadow so much that you make him the master of your universe, you can’t come back and punish him for acting that way. It is what you taught him to do. And, when he acts shy, nervous, or terrified in public, you can’t blame his behavior on anyone or anything else than yourself. You have nurtured and encouraged him to have such misguided and erroneous perceptions of the outside world. That kind of love, no matter how tempting it may be, is really a poison and it is an enabler that sets him up from the get go for supreme failure. If that type of love becomes the law of the land, most dogs will become a monster in their own home, and a monster and/or a basket case outside of that home. The dog will never be centered or properly socialized. It will be almost impossible for him to remain stable in any environment because his perception of reality will be so distorted. What he needs, what we all need, is not that, but what I call tough love. I guess you could also call it simple respect. With tough love or true respect, you have to remain centered and balanced at all times……well, at least within the natural realms of our capability. You don’t over-nurture or spoil a dog, because it will make them an out-of-touch-with-reality-monster. Doing that is just as evil, if not more so, than over-dominance, over-correction, and performing physical abuse. A lot of the time, we actually see both destructive forces combined in the same household. One leading to or justifying the other. And that is a really really bad situation that will scramble a dog’s brain and make him perpetually neurotic. In your case, you have unfortunately, but understandably, nurtured Shadow into believing that he rules the castle that you and your family live in. He is King and he has been encouraged to make all of the rules. That backfires on him when he is forced to step outside of the castle and face the real world. He cringes in fear when he is forced to deal with or tolerate any figure of potential authority. By eliminating the excessive love or spoiling or over-nurturing that you have been giving him and replacing it with definitive and healthy boundaries, you will lift him up and it will stabilize him. Then true respect or tough love will become the law of the land, and that, that is a very beautiful thing.” The veterinarian rolls over a little before slowly rising from the floor. He does so in the overly exaggerated manner of a rusted Tin Man or a clumsy disoriented Zombie or an ancient hermit who is trying to climb up a mountain; complete with odd groans and exaggerated drama.
And then suddenly, she laughs. The little girl laughs…just a little, but it is still a laugh. And she is smiling, still reserved, but smiling…….and she smiles directly at him for a moment. His lip quivers ever so slightly, almost un-noticeably, and a tear or two pool, without spilling, into each of his lower lids. The transition, the awakening is so beautiful to see and many never ever even get the chance to escape…….to live. He remembers his own fear. He remembers not knowing what it was or why he felt it. He remembers feeling nervous, abandoned, and so alone, when he was forced to start stepping outside of his own home and outside of the bubble created by the quote love of his mother. It was a very difficult time and he remembers.
“Well, I appreciate you listening in such good faith,” the veterinarian says to the mother. “The advice may not be perfect, but I promise you that I believe everything I said. That’s my tough love for you, your daughter, and Shadow. Everything really did go very well today and that makes me very happy. Good luck with it all. If you have any more questions or need some more help in the future, please let me know, and I will help as much as I can.”
He says “Bye Bye!” with an exaggerated smile and a goofy wave of his hand as he is leaving the exam room. The little girl looks back at him, returning her own precious version of an exaggerated smile, and then she waves back. She tilts her head slightly to the side and her smile almost turns into laughter, before she finally says “Bye!”